Senate Democrats Propose Health Insurance Measures
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) Tuesday proposed a $70 billion economic stimulus plan -- aimed in part at increasing health insurance subsidies -- that includes $35 billion in additional spending to help unemployed workers and $35 billion in tax cuts for businesses and individuals, the Los Angeles Times reports (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 10/24). Under Baucus' proposal, the government would spend $16 billion to extend benefits for unemployed workers for 13 weeks after their 26-week compensation has expired. The plan also would require states to expand unemployment coverage to some part-time employees. In addition, the proposal would establish a $17 billion, one-year 50% subsidy to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance through the COBRA program. COBRA, a provision of the 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, allows unemployed workers to retain health coverage under their former employers' insurance plans by paying 102% of the premiums (Murray/McKinnon, Wall Street Journal, 10/24). The plan would also allow more unemployed workers to qualify for Medicaid (Los Angeles Times, 10/24).
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) plans to unveil a separate $20 billion proposal that would provide funds to increase vaccine and antibiotic stockpiles (Wall Street Journal, 10/24). In addition, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has proposed "more generous" health insurance subsidies for unemployed workers. House Republicans will vote today on their own economic stimulus plan. The House GOP bill would provide $100 billion that would be spent "almost entirely" in tax cuts "far more oriented" to businesses than individuals, the Times reports. House Democrats have accused Republicans of "muscling through" the bill, which the House Ways and Means Committee approved on a party-line vote, and "complained" that the legislation provides "too little" benefit for low-income and unemployed workers. They plan to offer a rival plan similar to Baucus' proposal (Los Angeles Times, 10/24). Under that plan, the government would provide a 75% subsidy to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance through the COBRA program (Norton, CongressDaily/AM, 10/24). Republicans, however, have "argued">Wall Street Journal, 10/24). According to the New York Times, Republicans and Democrats appear "headed for an ideological showdown" over an economic stimulus package in a debate "where it has become all but impossible to paper over the depth of their differences" (Stevenson, New York Times, 10/24).